Oh what a week this has been! It began with the remnants of a cold, leftover from last weekend. Yes, I had a cold on a three day weekend, lucky me. Those remnants still persist; it is the cold that will not completely die. Next, a number of projects have just completely occupied my time at work. Among them is a presentation at Company O.'s annual "tent meeting, rivival, and jamboree" where we get a whole bunch of customers, give them bread and circuses, and tell them about how great we are. This year, I get to be among those doing the telling. Company O. seems to be particularly anal about who attends their jamboree this year; I have go to a "mandatory orientation" on Sunday afternoon. The focus seems to be marketing message; one colleague seems to feel that a few too many employees attended in past years and told customers the TRUTH, instead of the marketing message.
Among the other things that I did this week was see a television documentary with Fiancee S. on Monday night entitled
Frat Boys. Fiancee S. spent several wonderful years in the college Greek system during her undergraduate days, and is always interested to see how fraternities and sororities are portrayed in the media. After the fiascos of MTV's Fraternity Life and Sorority Life, she was hoping for something better. Fortunately, this was a fairly balanced picture about the good and bad during the 200 years of college fraternities in the United States.
For me, it was a reason to re-visit why I decided not to fledge a fraternity in college. After a couple of days musing intermittently on the subject, I've decided it was ultimately because that feeling you get of being bullied by the older kids in Junior High or Middle School. I remember that there was this guy, J., in my gym class in the seventh grade. He was in ninth, and something of a bully and a wise-ass. Often capable of a lewd comment or gesture in a roomful of young men changing clothes, he was also fond of going to seventh graders and saying "give me twenty!!!" drill-sargeant style. No one ever did... including me.
By the time I got to college, I decided that fraternity rush was a slightly more complicated dance but elicited the same feeling in me. I was a transfer student at a new school, a hard school, and this was purposely putting someone in my life who was going to put me through the college equivalent of "basic training". It seemed like just one more kind of bullshit, and a kind that I did not need.
It seems that the core of male bonding rituals always seem to have some kind of Stockholm Syndrome experience at their root -- like allowing pledges two hours sleep a night or locking them in a room together with no furniture when they are not in class during Hell week -- one of those experiences where the victims ultimately empathize with the goals of their captors. I do not believe that this is especially the fault of fraternities. It is a problem more pandemic to the less social of the two sexes when it attempts to create some kind of shared social experience, usually through suffering.
At the same time, the effect is profound. I have had a number of Walpurgisnacht-type experiences... a period of testing and trial in darkness that emerges into light. Sharing those experiences with others is an exceedingly powerful thing. I feel (or felt) a strong sense of kinship with certain groups of people who have experienced the same struggles I have.
I suppose that it ultimately comes down to priorities. I never saw a fraternity to be a goal that was worth that kind of experience. Other people feel the need to bond with people in that way.
Let me close by saying that I am not against the Greek system in principle. While I did meet a number of people in my undergraduate days whose sole inspiration for joining a fraternity was the movie Animal House, I've also met some exceedingly service-minded individuals who joined these organizations for the best of reasons. My choice not to join was just about me, and the fact that I want to make friends with people in a certain way and a different way than the fraternity path.
on 2003-09-05 at 5:50 a.m.
The Wayback Machine - To Infinity And Beyond